The Bible emphasizes the need for unity and peace among God’s people. We can find texts in both the Old (Psalm 133:1; Ecclesiastes 4:9-12; 1 Chronicles 12:17) and New Testament (John 17:21-23; Romans 12:16; 1 Corinthians 1:10; Ephesians 4:1-6) that tell us to pursue unity. Several years ago, I taught an eight lesson series on the topic—there is that much material and more in the Bible about unity.
Occasionally in the discussion of unity among God’s people, you will hear folks reference a short, but powerful verse in Amos. It reads:
Can two walk together, unless they are agreed? (Amos 3:3)
Amen! What a great verse; a wonderful testimony from God’s word about the necessity for brethren to have unity. Indeed, how can Christians walk with one another if we do not share (and walk by) the common faith of the gospel? Truly, it is a great verse, and it is essential that fellow believers be of one mind in the faith.
So, what’s the problem? Is Amos really discussing the need for unity among God’s people? Though the verse has been used that way, we need to look at the context to see if this is really what the prophet was saying.
Please take some time to read the context of Amos 3:3 now. We’ve suggested in the past using at least a 15 verse context (7 verses before, 7 verses after). Perhaps start at Amos 2:11, and read through to Amos 3:10.
Nothing in the context indicates a lack of unity among the people of Israel. The prophet does point out their wickedness (Amos 2:11-13) and the judgment of God upon them because of it (Amos 2:14-3:2), but it seems the nation was fairly united in their opposition to those who spoke on behalf of God.
Amos 3:3 is not a command for God’s people to walk in unity with one another.
Based on Amos 3:1-2, I once thought the two who are spoken of in the text are God and Israel. It certainly is true that God’s people need to walk God’s way. Sadly, Israel had turned from the LORD—and so how could He walk with them if they would not agree with Him? Though this is true (and holds true for the church and the Lord today), it is not the point the prophet was making.
Before we discuss what Amos is saying, I want to make an observation about the two potential applications we’ve just looked at. Both points are valid and true:
- Fellowship with one another requires us to agree on what God’s word says. A lack of agreement is why there is so much division in the religious world today.
- It is impossible to have fellowship with God if we refuse to follow His word. He’s not going to change His will for you or I.
The truthfulness of these statements does not justify misusing Amos 3:3. We need to be honest Bible students. It will destroy our credibility with those we are trying to teach if we misuse a verse to make our point.
Now then, what is Amos talking about? In Amos 2:11, the Lord says He raised up prophets and Nazirites. The people of Israel mistreated these men who were dedicated to serving God. They
…gave the Nazirites wine to drink, and commanded the prophets saying, ’Do not prophesy! (v 12)
Though these men of God were abused and rejected by the nation, they were accepted, even appointed by God. Though the nation refused God’s way, these men walked with God and He with them.
Amos presents a series of rhetorical questions (v 4-6), each one showing a cause & effect relationship. If the lion has killed his prey, he will roar. If there is no trap, the bird will not be ensnared. If the trumpet blows (signifying an enemy at hand), the people will respond in fear. Every effect has an adequate cause.
Why did the prophets come preaching against the nation? They did not do this of their own accord. A few chapters later, Amos would say:
I was no prophet, nor was I a son of a prophet, but I was a sheepbreeder and a tender of sycamore fruit. (Amos 7:14)
Why would a man who makes his living with livestock and fruit come preaching against the nation? In Amos 7:15, he reveals that the Lord told him to go prophesy to Israel. Amos fulfilled the calling he received from the Lord—he went and prophesied against Israel. He was in agreement with God, obeying the calling and declaring the Lord’s message. Amos and the rest of the prophets (Amos 3:7-8) walked together with the LORD.